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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the landmark special education legislation that guides how states, school districts and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.
Part B of the legislation describes the processes that school systems must use to identify and educate children with disabilities, ages 3 to 22. Part C describes the responsibilities that states have for providing early intervention services to babies and toddlers with disabilities or developmental delays. IDEA 2004 emphasizes the importance of having high expectations and improved educational results for children with disabilities. Supporting this is increased parent participation in the development of their child's educational program. The Center for Infants and Children with Special Needs at Cincinnati Children's provides resources to help families find the special education programs and supports they need.
IDEA has been revised many times, with the most recent changes signed into law as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act on December 3, 2004. Part B of IDEA 2004 requires that:
The final version of IDEA 2004 was published in the Federal Register on August 14, 2006. The regulations went into effect on October 14, 2006.
IDEA covers specific disabilities that have an impact on a child's ability to learn. The child must have an educationally handicapping condition:
Contact the teacher or principal if you think your child has a disability that is interfering with his ability to learn. Some schools begin the process by providing intervention assistance to see if additional academic and behavioral support would help your child in the classroom. Information is gathered to see what strategies are successful.
No matter where you are in this process, if you suspect that your child has a disability, express your concerns in a letter and request an evaluation. If the school also suspects that your child has a disability that might need special education services, you will be contacted for written permission to begin an initial evaluation. However, the school is not required to conduct an evaluation if it does not suspect a disability. You will be given a copy of your rights, sometimes called procedural safeguards. This will tell you about the special education process and your due process rights if you disagree with the school decision.
Evaluation is the process used to gather information to assist in determining whether your child has a disability and is eligible for special education services. You may hear this called a multifactored evaluation or MFE. The school district must ask the parent(s) for written permission to begin this initial evaluation process. An evaluation team, including the parents and qualified professionals, will use a variety of tools and strategies to determine if the child has a disability and educational needs that require special education and related services. The evaluation must address all areas related to the suspected disability and include information provided by the parents. Input from your child's physician and other health care providers may also be very helpful. The initial evaluation must be completed within 60 days of receiving parent consent for the evaluation. If you disagree with the findings of the evaluation, you can request an independent educational evaluation by a qualified professional not employed by the school. The school district may either agree to pay for the outside evaluation or decide to defend its own evaluation as valid.
If the team determines that your child has a disability that requires special education services, an individualized education program, called an IEP, will be developed to address those unique learning needs.
A child who is not eligible for services under IDEA, may qualify for supports under another law called Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 covers a broader range of disabilities that limit major life activities.
Related services are provided if it is determined that these services are required to assist the child to benefit from the special education program. Related services can include: speech, physical or occupational therapy, audiology, psychological services, interpreting services, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, social work services, counseling services, orientation and mobility services, school nurse services, including the development of an individualized health care plan, transportation services and medical services that assist with diagnosis and evaluation.
Special education instruction must be made available to students in what is known as the least restrictive environment (LRE). This means that a child be educated and participate with nondisabled peers, to the maximum extent appropriate, in general education, extracurricular and other nonacademic activities. Special education instruction can be provided in a number of ways, on a continuum from least restrictive to more restrictive settings. This could include instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, hospitals or institutions.
Supplementary aids and services must be provided to enable the child to be in the least restrictive environment possible. This often includes classroom aids, assistive technology devices, computers, adaptations and modifications to physical environments and other supports so that children with disabilities can be educated with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate.
A reevaluation of your child must take place at least once every three years, but it can be requested at anytime if the school or parents feel additional evaluation information is necessary. A reevaluation may include more formal testing or a review of existing school work and assessments. The results help to determine if the child is still in need of special education services.
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